South Africa new visa rules need a rethink

SA Passport

(2015-05-15) Business Day Live today publishes an editorial about the ongoing controversy in South Africa over the new visa requirements for all those entering the country, namely children. Read the article below.

It is hard to know whether to be encouraged or discouraged by the apparent deep divide within the government on tourist visas.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba is pressing ahead with controversial new regulations that require tourists to SA to apply in person for visas so that biometric data can be collected, and from next month will require parents and guardians travelling with minors to provide unabridged birth certificates.

But Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has made it absolutely clear that the visa rules will damage SA as a tourism destination.

Mr Hanekom told journalists on Thursday that the regulations, which took effect last year, have already had a negative impact on foreign tourist arrivals to SA, with the decline specifically from countries that require visas. Officials said that the drop was especially noticeable from countries such as China and India.

With their large and increasingly affluent populations, the two have been big growth markets for South African tourism, but in both countries it is logistically difficult and expensive for potential tourists to get to the limited number of visa offices in person. So those tourists, doubtless, are going elsewhere. And if that carries on, the minister’s ambitious targets for tourism may be hard to meet.

That would be unfortunate for SA’s economic and employment prospects. Tourism is estimated to account for as much as 9% of gross domestic product and is the kind of labour-intensive sector SA needs to grow. It already employs an estimated 1.5-million people. It tends too to respond very quickly to changes in the rand exchange rate — so this is a sector where a weakening rand is a big and speedy plus for the balance of payments.

SA is for now still high up as a tourist destination, as a recent survey from the World Economic Forum (WEF) showed. SA ranked 48th out of 141 countries, making it the foremost tourist-friendly destination in sub-Saharan Africa.

But that may change. SA is 67th for its visa policy and the WEF cautions that the new, more stringent visa regulations “could certainly harm SA’s travel and tourism competitiveness”.

Warning noises came too from consulting firm PwC, which cautioned that the new regulations, although intended to protect SA, “could have unforeseen consequences for the tourism and hospitality industries”.

Around the world, PwC noted, governments are focusing on efforts to relax visa requirements to promote tourism.

SA, clearly, is determined to go against that global trend. A storm of protest from the tourism industry has apparently been ignored, as has mounting evidence — from tourism industry commentators and now from the tourism ministry too — that the regulations have already adversely affected travel from the rest of the Brics bloc — Brazil, Russia, India and China — which is ironic given SA’s desire to extend trade with these allies.

Mr Gigaba is understandably concerned about human trafficking and other abuses to which SA’s borders may be open if the appropriate controls are not in place. But those abuses should be addressed by a more capable policing and home affairs bureaucracy — not with sweeping regulations that negatively affect the economy at large.

Nor is it a good sign that the only sympathy home affairs showed to the tourism industry was to delay implementation of the unabridged birth certificate requirement by a few months, a reprieve that ends next month. Fortunately, talks are under way within the government to address the problem, says Mr Hanekom. We hope that sense prevails. There is no shame in going back on a policy decision if it was a bad one to start with.

Source: BD Live

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